What’s eaten where: Cook Islands
Welcome to the true tropical paradise, a place where no building can be higher than a coconut palm tree! Spread across 1,960,027 square kilometers of azure blue waters, the Cook Islands are made up of 15 verdant islands – each a jewel of the Pacific. Tourism is the mainstay of this self-sustaining nation, but the islands are also known for their offshore banks and magnificent black pearls, which thrive in the warm climate and unpolluted waters.
The islands are known for their friendly and welcoming people. It is the land of Ura (similar to the Hula, but much faster); happy ukulele; pristine beaches, crystal clear lagoons and lush forest. Even the greeting, ‘kia orana ‘, is a pleasant plea to “live long and be in good health”.
The lifestyle and the food are free and easy. Breakfast falls from the tree (seasonal fruits, such as papaya drizzled with lime and coconut, are the traditional morning meal); exotic fruits and vegetables (including breadfruit, bananas, cassava and papaya) abound; and coconut milk is the drink of choice.
Main dishes often consist of fish, served with bread or rice and vegetables. But frequent parties get better, thanks to the uh: a traditional meal prepared on special occasions. Named after the hot stone pit in which it is cooked, this feast can include anything from fish to pork, lamb or chicken (wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for hours), served with papaya salad, baked potatoes and steamed rice.
You will also most likely meet minais (a distinctive pink potato salad of diced, boiled potatoes, mixed vegetables, spring onion, lettuce, egg, mayonnaise and beetroot), with ika mata, a dish of raw fish (local varieties of snapper or cod) and vegetables (such as tomato, cilantro and chili) marinated in lemon juice and coconut cream.
Rukau is another favorite, a traditional Cook Island dish that honors returning parents. Named after the taro leaves wrapped around the ingredients, it consists of corned beef, onions, and coconut cream, all in delicious packaging. And the dessert will be either push (made from cooked, overripe bananas topped with coconut cream and sugar), or a Cook Islands donut: a deep-fried candy that’s a quick and easy snack.